If you’re here, chances are you’re as puzzled as I was when I first heard the term “content marketing.” To the uninitiated, it smacks of “wishy-washy marketing fad”, but I soon learned that content marketing is an absolutely invaluable tool in any organisation’s online tool box.

Regardless of your industry or your market, you’ll probably be able to harness the power of content marketing somehow. So what is it?

What is Content Marketing

Content marketing is the practice of producing, publishing, and sharing content about topics relevant to your company’s offering or industry. Content can take many forms, including blog posts, videos, infographics, and many more. Content should seek to educate, enlighten, or entertain in an aspect of your field, rather than being outright salesy.

Content marketing is all about growing your relationship with your audience. It gives you an opportunity to prove your expertise; build real, human rapport; and turn cold leads into well-informed, brand aware prospective clients.

There are secondary benefits involved too. Publishing regular content can improve your search presence and gives you an ever-growing library of branded collateral to share on social media (or with email subscribers).

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Common Content Formats

Content can comprise any kind of shareable, digestible media. Here are a few popular content formats:

This is in no way an exhaustive list, but reflects some of the more common formats you may see out in the wild.

Choosing the Right Content Marketing Formats

If you’re just embarking on your content marketing journey, you may be wondering which of these formats you should choose. But the magic of content marketing is that you can publish as many or as few content formats as you like.

So let’s take a look at a few benefits and drawbacks of the above content types:

Type Advantages Disadvantages
Blog Posts Share lots of information and prove your expertise in one swoop! Arguably the most commonly accepted form of B2B content marketing. It’s easily outsourced, too (hint hint!). Poorly written blogs can put readers off. If you don’t explain concepts clearly or take too long to get to the point, you may send readers running for the hills.
Images Relatively easy to produce; punchier and more eye-catching than text; easy to share on your website or on social media; great for visual learners. Can easily look tacky or unprofessional without an eye for graphic design or without access to the right design software.
Videos Both eye-catching AND engaging. A great way of creatively presenting data and dry, complex topics. The barrier to entry is lower than you may think given the quality of cameras on modern smartphones. You need the right hardware and skills to give a truly polished look, and the price of video production tools/services can be pricey.
Infographics & Data Visualisations Very popular way of presenting facts and figures without eliciting snores. Can require a lot of research; graphics need to be professionally designed to make the best impression.
Podcasts Fairly easy and low cost to produce. Great for listeners to tune in while commuting or doing other things. Need a good quality microphone and some level of editing skill to create a professionally sounding podcast, as well as a clear speaking voice.
Presentations Allows you to present things visually and clearly explain points of data and rationale. Not quite as popular as other media as they’re considered quite formal. It therefore won’t suit all industries and brands.
Email Marketing Delivers your message directly to a subscriber’s inbox. Can be presented as a piece of content in its own right or can direct the reader to other content. Spam is a huge problem, so email deliverability checks can sometimes stop genuine bulk emails from getting through. You also need to carefully navigate the data privacy responsibilities associated with collecting email addresses.
Ebooks & Whitapapers Can share much more than in your average blog post. Downloadables like these can also be used as a gated “lead magnet” resource to grow your email subscriber list. The longer you make your content, the less snappy digestibility it has. Also, it’s all too easy to sign up for a free lead magnet and totally forget about it – just ask my inbox!

Thinking About You and Your Audience

It’s important to consider your own internal ability and capacity when choosing content formats and frequency. Don’t feel pressured to publish a blog post every week, for example, if you’d have to sacrifice each piece’s quality in order to do so. Quality trumps quantity every time.

However, internal factors are only part of the quandary – you also need to think about what content formats are most likely to be found and digested by your target audience. What kinds of content are most likely to resound well with them? Does their personal or professional lifestyle hint at a preference for one type of content over another?

For example, time-poor professionals may appreciate podcasts they can listen to in the car or whilst doing valuable admin. If you’re trying to convey something sensory, you can’t go far wrong with visual formats. If you commonly need to explain data-heavy concepts, then a presentation or video is likely to fare better than swathes of dry text. Don’t just consider what’s easiest for you to produce, but what is likely to fit well into your prospects’ lives, habits, and frame of mind.

If you’re not sure about what content your audience would like, then simply ask them with a Survey Monkey or Google Form. If you’re completely starting from scratch and you don’t have much of a social or email presence to speak of, I’d recommend starting out with blogging. Blogging can most positively impact your search performance and usually has the lowest barrier to entry for most businesses. Once you’ve grown an audience, you can always change course in line with their preferences.

Content is the Monarch – Distribution is it’s Co-Regent

Creating and publishing content is great, but you need to actively get it in front of willing eyeballs in order to maximise your investment. As Jonathan Perelman of Buzzfeed said “Content is King but Distribution is Queen”.

When you’re putting your content strategy together, you need to consider how you’re going to get your content out there into the big, bad world.

Social media and content marketing make great compadres. Getting your content found through organic SEO is great (or indeed over format-specific platforms like YouTube or Spotify), but the best way to actively get your content under people’s noses is by sharing it on social media.

And not just one time either – keep sharing it for as long as the piece is useful. This doesn’t mean spamming your feed with the same few links day in, day out. The “lifecycle” of a single post differs wildly between different social media platforms. Some platforms like Twitter churn through posts very quickly, whereas posts on LinkedIn tend to appear in people’s feeds a little longer.

Email marketing may be a content type in its own right, but it’s also a great way to get your content in front of people too. If you maintain an email subscriber list, it’s likely that those individuals will be different to those who follow you on social media, so don’t forget to keep both audiences in the loop!

6 Reasons Why You Should Consider Content Marketing

All of this might seem like a lot of effort. If you’re completely new to the concept, you may be thinking “Why bother! It sounds like a right faff.” And it can be, I’m not gonna lie. But content marketing does come with a number of very unique features and advantages:

Content Marketing is Relatively Inexpensive

Though there may be an initial outlay and a bit of a learning curve, content marketing is often cheaper than other kinds of marketing. It can also provide a positive return on investment in multiple ways, including positive brand exposure; creating an engaged and informed customer base; attracting interested leads; SEO advantages; and all of the other benefits on this list.

Content Marketing is Versatile

With a bit of imagination, content marketing can work for practically any industry, B2B or B2C. It doesn’t clash with other, existing marketing efforts, either – the more ways you can be visible, the better!

Content Marketing Doesn’t Rely on Hard-Sell Tactics

Nowadays, wherever we go (online or offline) we’re bombarded with ads, offers, and finely honed calls to action. We generally have our ad-dodging defences up ready for even the most casual of web browsing sessions. Though high-visibility digital marketing methods like pay-per-click ads can be great for a bit of quick exposure, there will be a certain percentage of your audience who tune them out.

However, content marketing attracts an audience without getting under people’s noses. People make an effort to actively seek out relevant, informative content that’s relevant to their needs. We generally don’t do that for ads! Admittedly content marketing is a “slow burn” when compared to more “in your face” marketing methods, but the potential is there to make a much stronger, interpersonal connection.

Content Marketing Can Be Great for SEO

When content is featured on your own website (like the blog function on this website for example), it can benefit your website’s search visibility. Regularly updating your site with keyword-rich, on-topic textual content gives search engines more material to appropriately index and rank your website. If the Google gorgons deem you worthy, this can potentially boost your search presence.

And besides, upsizing your corner of the internet is never a bad thing.

Content Marketing Provides Proof of Your Expertise

You’re an expert in your field. So prove it. When you produce insightful content about genuinely helpful topics related to your niche, you prove that you’re an authority on the subject. Our jaded, ad-fatigued minds can sometimes perceive sales-driven copy as nothing but hollow promises, but content gives you the opportunity to be helpful, rather than salesy. Content provides evidence of your knowledge and makes you less of a gamble in the eyes of your audience.

Content Marketing Makes You More Competitive Online

Content marketing is great – that’s why it’s remarkably commonplace nowadays. Even if you’re not using content marketing, chances are you have a competitor who is. They’re reaping all of the SEO-boosting, exposure-garnering, relationship building benefits of content marketing – and you’re not!

Content marketing enjoys many more benefits than just these. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of blogging (my particular specialist subject) then head on over to my post Why Your Small Business Needs to Blog.

Want to develop your own content marketing strategy for free? Grab my Complete Guide to DIY-ing Your Content Strategy today! It contains over 40 probing questions designed to get you thinking like a content strategist. Regardless of whether you’re planning to produce content in house or you want to outsource – then you won’t regret it!

Note: This post was first published on the 2nd November 2015 and has since been edited.